This is the story of the woman who had the romantic notion of keeping chickens in her back garden and collecting fresh eggs each morning. Last July, that notion became a reality. Welcome to the City Chicken Keeper and her 3 chickens, Julia, Sybil and Margot.
The idea of keeping chickens to be honest happened a few years ago and I was reluctant to pursue the idea as I was sure I would come down one morning to feathers and dead chickens, courtesy of a fox. However, I saw an article in a magazine about a fox proof chicken run from a company called Omlet. After talking about it, we decided to give chicken keeping a go.
Fun in my veg box!
First decision, how to go about adopting hens. I contacted the British Hen Welfare Trust and explained the situation. They said that they only rehomed 3 hens at a time as they were fairly social creatures, plus if one died, the others would have each other! Nice. The BHWT operates throughout the UK and there were 2 collection points fairly near to us that we could pick the chickens up with. However, we couldn’t apply for hens until we had a run, so we had to wait. Secondly where was the run going to go? We have a fairly narrow and long back garden, pretty spacious for South Birmingham. There is a deck, then a lawn and then a gravel part up the top. The obvious location was the lawn as I remember reading that chickens like the feel of grass underneath their feet. Sorted.
Finally D Day came and in June last year, the run arrived; all 9 boxes of it. The DHL man asked what on earth we had ordered. We started building that weekend. It was a fairly straightforward build if a little fiddly. We had ordered the Eglu Go Chicken Coop with a 3m run. When it was finally built, we looked at it and said how on earth would be move it around the lawn so that the grass would grow back. Answer – we wouldn’t! So back to the drawing board. Eventually it was decided to move the run to the top gravel part of the garden, which would be good for the chickens in the summer as it was part shady. So, back to dismantling and erecting. Now that had been decided, the nice part of reserving the chickens came. We had to wait a couple of weeks to collect our chickens from the Warwickshire collection farm. In the meantime, all the food and bedding and grit and oystershell and the numerous other things that you have to buy as a first time chicken keeper were purchased. All set.
On an extremely hot Sunday at the end of June, we arrived with the cats vet box and some cardboard boxes to collect our chickens. Lots of other people had arrived too, all obviously had been through this before – we were the newbies. At first sight, there were hundreds of chickens milling around in the farmyard. I looked at my husband and he looked at me and we both said, ” they are big, arenty they”. I don’t really know what I expected, but these chickens looked very scary and big. I said, “have we made a mistake?” “No, dont be silly!”, was the reply and we waited in turn to be handed our 3 chickens. Three were unceremoniously plucked from the floor and placed into our boxes, 2 in the one box and 1 in the cat carrier. Rather bewildered, we went back to the car, with my teenager son sitting in the middle of the chickens worrying that they would pee on him! (Lots of newspaper lined the boxes), so no unexpected accidents happened. When we got home we released the hens into their new home. We must have spent most ot the evening watching them and trying to decide names.
I had read in my research that there was always a pecking order amongst hens and that they also had their own little personalities! Over the days, both of these statements became clear. Julia (named after the lead character in Motherland) was obviously leader of the pack, followed by Sybil (Sybil Fawlty – she is very noisy and sqwarks alot!). Finally little Margot (named after Queen Margot of Navarre – I have a passion for female historical figures!), bought up the rear. The first day, Margot laid an egg for us! We were over the moon! I wasn’t really expecting eggs, i was just happy to save them from death and to give them a home. After that, they laid regularly and we had 3 eggs every day. Amazing to go out and pick up a warm egg from the roost – the simple pleasures of life…
The chicken obsession continued for quite a while, with all of us going out to see them during the day and giving them healthy treats – cabbage hung up on a string is especially popular! We let them out late afternoon so they could roam the garden and have some freedom. I was a soft touch and thought, ah they’ve been cooped up and never seen fresh air so why not let them have some fun. However, I love my garden and hadn’t bargained on the amount of destruction a chicken can manage. We would go out in the summer evenings and sit with them and try to stop them getting into my flower borders and veg patch. I lost count of the barriers we put up to contain them.. They just seemed to find a way through. Indeed this culminated one evening last year when we were herding them into their roost and my husband yelled out to me that he had lost a chicken! It turned out Sybil (its always her – the one in trouble – the miscreant!) had squeezed through a gap in the fence and went into next doors garden. Unfortunately next doors were away. We Whats App our street to get them to look our for a wandering chicken – even though its suburban Birmingham, a few of us keep chickens on the road, so people were very helpful. I decided to go to the neighbour 2 doors down in case Sybil had gone through to them. Luckily I found her and managed to pick her up and carry her back home – she was not a happy chicken!).
That’s one thing that i’ve got used to – picking chickens up! When we first had them, I never thought i would be able to do it, but as your confidence grows around them, it just happens. They are extremely light really, you just have to hold them so their wings can’t flap in your face. We even give them a bath! They do give themselves a dust bath but occasionally we get the old pond liner out and give them a sponge down and a gentle hose down. Never in a million years did I think i would be bathing chickens! They’re surprisingly good about it really – they don’t seem to mind too much.
Anyway, going back to the garden bit – I finally had enough of half eaten plants and vegetables dug up so we decided to fence off the borders so they couldn’t get in and destroy my lovely plants. This worked well for a week then lo and behold one day, Sybil appeared in the flower border having a lovely time eating my plants. This went on for quite a while, we would block where we thought they were getting in and even put chicken wire on the top of the fence only to be thwarted yet again with an escaped chicken. I felt like i was forever checking up on them and removing them from spaces they weren’t allowed in. Finally it was sorted and the chickens were kept at bay, only to find out that avian flu had struck the UK and we had to keep our hens locked up. So be warned, if you, like me, love your garden, either be prepared to lose lots of plants or make sure you have a secure fence area where they can’t get into! Actually reading about it, there are some plants that chickens don’t like, namely rosemary and lavender to name just a few.
After having the chicken for a couple of months, we went on holiday with our lovely cat sitter company, Kitty’s Angels looking after all our animals. (By then we had 10 outdoor goldfish too)!. Before we went, I began to feel sorry for the chickens in that they wouldn’t have a huge amount of space to roam around in while we were away or for that matter in the winter and in the rain etc. so we decided to buy from Omlet a 6 ft x 6 ft walk in chicken run in the form of a cage. Again, construction took place over a weekend and the new extension was both loved by the chickens and also by us as we didn’t need to keep bending down to sort food and water out.
I love our chickens and Sybil, Julia and Margot are part of our family, their eggs are like no other i’ve tasted and I always bought organic eggs too as I was so opposed to battery farming. I love going out to see them and observe their little personalities – Its great to think that we’ve given these 3 chickens a home and saved them from death and that they seem to like their new home and of course its a thousand times better than the conditions they were used to.
There are of course negative aspects. Its great cleaning them out in summer mornings, but in the winter when its raining (the worse) and cold, it’s not great fun. Also, we have spent a small fortune on these 3 little chickens. Okay, you could buy cheaper and smaller runs etc but there is still the cost of the food and the bedding, grit and oystershell etc. Our chickens love Poultry Porridge so that gets ordered most weeks. I know i’m a soft touch when it comes to my pets. (The cat is currently reclining in his heated cat bed!). but the chickens are so worth it with the pleasure they give our family. Plus the eggs are a bonus! If you are thinking of adopting chickens, just be prepared and don’t hesitate.